Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include photos of Zero’s May 14 concert. To see all of Larry Sabo’s photos, click the LINK.
The psychedelic caravan zeroed in on the Crystal Bay Casino on Saturday, May 14, its first appearance at the Lake Tahoe venue in almost 30 months.
Astutely described as a monolithic jam band, Zero has always included drummer Greg Anton and guitarist Steve Kimock. Other members over the last 42 years have been all-star musicians from around the San Francisco Bay Area. If ever there’s been a rock ‘n’ roll version of The Jazz Messengers, Art Blakey’s jazz collective from 1955-1990, it’s Zero.
“Zero is like an institution,” Anton told Tahoe Onstage. “(It’s had) the guys in Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service. That scene related to Dead. (Jerry) Garcia, Bill, Weir all sat in. We have that connection but hardly ever — maybe once every 10 or 20 shows — will play a Dead song just for fun.”
Zero has eight albums and has played well over 1,300 concerts.
“Steve’s missed one or two gigs, and I missed one,” Anton said.
Before 1992, Zero was an instrumental band.
“When we made our first record, I played drums and keys and Steve played bass and guitar,” Anton said.
Anton and Kimock had been in the Heart of Gold Band with Grateful Dead players Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux and John Kahn. That band ended in 1980 when Keith Godchaux died in a car accident.
The titles of Zero’s first three albums, “Here Goes Nothin,” “Nothin’ Goes Here” and “Go Hear Nothin,’ ” seem like the spinoff of an observation by their friend Wavy Gravy. (We failed to ask Anton about this.) Guest artists included Kahn, John Cipollina, Banana, Martin Fierro, Bobby Vega, Nicky Hopkins, John Farey, Vince Welnick, Merl Saunders, Tony Saunders, Liam Hanrahan, Chip Roland and Steve Wolf.
Another friend of the band was Robert Hunter, the famed Grateful Dead lyricist. He had a fateful conversation with Anton at a party around 1990.
“Hunter said: ‘Zero is a great band but most of your fans are other musicians. If you want to expand your audience, you ought to have some songs (with verses).’ I said, ‘You got any?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you got any?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Hunter, who besides Jerry Garcia, collaborated with Jim Lauderdale, David Nelson, Bruce Hornsby among others, co-wrote 37 songs with Anton. Kimock contributed with melodies and bridges, making Zero into a song-building power of three.
Two different faces since the Nov. 23, 2019 show in Crystal Bay appeared onstage on May 14: singer-piano player Spencer Burrows and Hadi Al-Saadoon, Zero’s trumpeter on three early albums. Burrows is half of the songwriting duo Burrows and Dilbeck, which is the offspring of the funk-rock group Frobeck. Al-Saadoon, a lifelong member of the Bay Area hippie rock scene including the band Wide Hole, said his greatest influence is Lee Morgan, a former player with aforementioned The Jazz Messengers.
Pete Sears, who played piano earlier in Zero, is back on bass. Sears has played with everyone from Rod Stewart, Jefferson Airplane to Hot Tuna and now with Moonalice and Chris Robinson & Green Leaf Rustlers.
On May 20, Zero will release a double-live CD, “Naught Again,” which are songs not included on the acclaimed “Chance in a Million,” from three October 1992 shows in San Francisco. Anton said he readdressed the recordings in order to find a new track to go along with a new mastered release of “Chance in a Million.” But he found enough great material to make an entirely new double live album.
“Dan Healy pretty much took the Grateful Dead studio and installed it in the basement of the Great American Music Hall,” Anton said.
The vinyl release of “Naught Again” will be Oct. 14, the night before Zero’s 30th anniversary performance at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
“There are 11 guys on record and five are still alive,” Anton said. “In my new book, I wrote, ‘Dying is like being stupid. It only bothers other people.’ ”
In 2015, Anton released a novel, “Face the Music.” He’s also an attorney and marijuana advocate who won a landmark case permitting the distribution of medical marijuana in California without federal interference.
“I believe marijuana is a positive thing for the world,” Anton said. “It would make people more peaceful and connected and empathetic.”